Press Release 18.9.01

The Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)

What is happening to our Maronite Church in Toronto - Canada? Is the Church now siding with Sheik Bashir’s killers and Lebanon's oppressors? This question was raised this past Sunday, the 16th of September, when a Maronite priest attempted to stop by force numerous Church members belonging to various Canadian-Lebanese Christian clubs and human right organizations from dedicating a mass and praying for the belated President Bashir Gemayel. As parishioners proceeded to enter the Church in procession carrying a picture of the late President on the anniversary of his assassination, a priest attacked the picture and broke the frame at the Church's main entrance in front of the Church's worshipers.

Sunday, September 16th of 2001 was an unforgettably sad day in Toronto; it was a devastating and a traumatic experience for the Lebanese in Diaspora. It was the day that the Son's and Daughter's of Lebanon were failed and betrayed by the very same religious leader's the "supposed" Shepherds in Canada - appointed to unite and protect them.

The priest responsible for the humiliation of the Church's parishioners and members of the Canadian-Lebanese Christian coalitions and organizations was Father Michel Rouhana. He denied his flock one of their basic human rights and prevented them from their spiritual obligation as he morally assaulted them at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Toronto. The priest, Michel Rouhana, refused to allow the parishioners to offer a mass for the late President and Martyr Bashir Gemayel and rebutted instead that it is our beloved Martyr Bashir who should offer it on behalf of the community.

“You, the parties, belittle Sheik Bashir", said Father Rouhana to a group of party representatives during a recent meeting with them. He insisted and firmly declared that the parishioners and various party members will not be allowed to hold any religious celebration commemorating the death of Sheik Bashir during the regular Sunday mass. What's ironic is that the Patriarch of our Church, Cardinal Sfeir, and clergymen along with tens of thousands of Lebanese in Lebanon marked this special day with prayers and dedications for Bashir Gemayel! It is also worth mentioning that the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces offered masses during the last two Sundays for Sheik Bashir in all the Maronite Churches in Europe, USA, Latin America and other Canadian Churches. The party executives, as well many clergymen, dignitaries, prominent Church members and the priest’s superiors tried unsuccessfully for the last two months to convince Father Rouhana to reconsider his controversial decision and hold the mass as requested by the parties.

This past Sunday, while a large procession of party members and faithful parishioners were entering the Church carrying Bashir's picture and a wreath of flowers from the Lebanese Forces, Lebanese Canadian Coordinating Council (LCCC) and Phalanges, Father Rouhana attempted to stop them at the main door yelling, "This picture will not enter the church!" When the parishioners tried to avoid him and enter the church, he jumped frantically and aggressively grabbed the picture while some of the youth and three senior executives from the LCCC, LF & Phalanges pulled from the other side. The priest broke the picture and a big piece of the frame was left in his hands. The three chairmen managed to take the picture from him and marched with it inside the Church peacefully, while half of its frame was still with the priest at the Church's main entrance. The picture and the wreath of flowers were placed near the altar while many parishioners volunteered to surround and protect them. The priest had no choice but to carry on with the mass, because of the presence of Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto; who also witnessed the confrontation.

To show his disrespect towards Sheik Bashir and to what this beloved martyr represents for millions of Lebanese; the priest did not offer the mass for Bashir as was promised on several occasions over the last two months. At the end of the mass, and after the Cardinal and the priest had left the Church, the LCCC Chairman, went to the altar accompanied by the Lebanese Forces and Phalanges Chairmen and asked the parishioners to pray for the late President Bashir Gemayel, which they did with great enthusiasm.

The Chairman addressed them saying, “Nineteen years ago our enemies killed the body of our Sheik Bashir, but could not and did not kill the message and the cause. Today our priest tried to keep Bashir’s picture outside the Church and broke its frame, but Bashir is here, inside the memory and hearts of every one of you. Our priest refused to pray for Bashir, but I am sure all of you did…Long live Bashir… Long live Lebanon". All the parishioners stood and clapped in support. Father Rouhana called for an urgent meeting for the Church council and informed them that he is going to excommunicate both, Elias Bejjani, the LCCC Chairman, and Camille Saade, the Phalanges chairman

On September the 16th of 2001, the Lebanese in Toronto-Canada witnessed the truth, safeguarded Lebanon’s dignity and hailed the 10 452 km2. He who tries to prevent the Christian Lebanese from praying for their dead, expressing their fears and proclaiming their hopes in the house of the Lord will face a formidable enemy and invincible foe! Our beloved martyr Sheik Bashir Gemayel, we pray for you, we thank you for your sacrifice and we hold your message of freedom and unity in our hearts!

The peaceful struggle for freedom and human rights will continue, and no Trojan, be him a Priest or a President will be able to hinder its course!!!. The Canadian Lebanese parties, clubs and organizations forgive all those who hate their leader, Sheik Bashir and fight what he stood for. They pray for their salvation and ask Almighty God to grant them the needed faith and discretion to be able to see the truth and witness for it.

Long Live Freedom,
God Bless Free Lebanon and Those Who Advocate 10 452 km2.
God Bless Bashir Gemayel!

For the CLHRF
Edmond El-Chidiac
Camille Saade
Elias Bejjani